By Christopher Young,
About two hundred residents gathered at 6 p.m. Monday at Cade Chapel Missionary Baptist Church to discuss Jackson’s water crisis. The event was sponsored jointly by the Mississippi State Conference of NAACP and the NAACP, featured several speakers and a highly engaged audience.
Numerous public and elected officials were in attendance including Derrick Johnson, National President of NAACP, State Senators Hillman Frazier and David Blount, State Representatives Sollie Norwood and Christopher Bell, Hinds County Supervisors Vern Gavin and David Archie, Jackson City Council member Angelique Lee, Jackson Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Errick L. Greene, Dr. Safiya Omari – Chief of Staff for Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, and of course, our own Jackson NAACP President Deloris Lee, and many more, including several members of Islamic Relief USA who offered their ongoing support to Jackson residents.
Charles Taylor, executive director of the Mississippi Conference introduced the speakers throughout the 90-minute meeting, beginning after an opening prayer from Dr. Shirley Harrington. In contributing to the framing of the issue, he indicated that “the citizens of Jackson have done their due diligence through several administrations to do everything they can to ensure that this infrastructure is where it needs to be…from my vantage point, unfortunately, the state of Mississippi has done everything they can to do the opposite.”
Dr. Omari thanked the gathering for their attendance and stressed that we want to hear what you have to say – “to speak to your feelings about this current water situation, how you feel about some of the plans that have been floated around as rumors, and we hope to take that away and work with you in fashioning a strong long-term solution to Jackson’s long standing water issues.”
Gordon Jackson, environment justice chairman for the Mississippi State Conference, travelled from Biloxi for the event. Jackson has been working environmental climate justice issues for many years. He indicated that these issues are often overlooked, but that the people are worth it, and the fight will continue. He urged people go to www.naacp.org and click on the environmental justice tab to find a plethora of reports and information of the work that has been done and continues to be done.
Derrick Johnson, who resides in Jackson, minced no words – “This is not a new problem, this is a systemic problem caried over from administration to administration – what’s important is that it’s an intentional attempt to starve the asset of resources.”
“Water is maintained through federal monies, and because of the nature and structure of governance, federal funds from the EPA come to the state based upon a plan the state submits to the federal government as to how the funds will be used. Once it gets into the state’s coffers, then the state determines the allocation of those funds.”
Years and years of disinvestment has brought on this dilemma.
“It is a fact that there was a deliberate attempt, that still goes on today, of denying resources. Over and over he returned to the theme – “three things we must have: clean drinking water, publicly owned (because our tax dollars have paid for it), and no takeover of any kind. If we can’t trust them to manage TANF monies, what do you think they would do with the water?”
He shared that during this crisis the Governor submitted a plan that made it very clear that it was drafted so that monies would be diverted out of Jackson, and the EPA said no – that it doesn’t comply with Justice 40. Then the state submitted a second plan that was not so obvious but when you look closely you see it diminishes Jackson’s ability to get the resources to address the problem.
Abre’ Connor, NAACP National Director of Environmental and Climate Justice, stressed the importance of being organized on the ground and speaking with one message. “We have seen this across the country…this is an attack on black cities, on black progress.”
One of the things she hears the most in Jackson is that people drink bottled water on a normal basis, while they are paying tax dollars for clean tap water that they can trust. When the state is receiving millions of dollars, Jackson’s infrastructure is not being prioritized.
President Biden’s Justice 40 Initiative states that communities that have been disinvested over a long period of time need to have funding poured into those communities for them to be able to thrive. “It is unprecedented for the EPA to open a second public comment period.”
Connor encouraged that all residents of Jackson go to www.naacp.org/jackson, complete the form, and push Send. By doing so a letter is sent to the Governor and a copy is sent to the EPA.
Dr. Omari reported that the city has had numerous plans and regardless of what has been submitted, the funding does not come.
“Even recently after the 2021 freeze, letters were sent to the Governor and Lt. Governor, and federal legislators were copied – there were $47 million in projects – “not only did we not get any of those dollars, but we also didn’t even get a response.” She also cautioned, “I want people to understand that you can not buy into the narrative of people who stand to profit off your tax dollars.”
She reminded us that people question Jackson’s leadership, “yet we are the only city that has to have two approval processes, MDEQ and DFA, well Jackson is not under investigation for the embezzlement of federal funds or the misuse of federal funds.” She indicated that she wants the people of Jackson involved and is looking into a community governance board and expects to have another community meeting next week.